[NOTE: Thank you all who took part yesterday in the blosophere celebration of Millie Garfield's 80th birthday. What a large, rich variety of greetings you sent her. I had a terrific time visiting them all from the comment links at her blog.]
It is a phrase we’ve heard and used ourselves all our lives: “I intend to grow old gracefully.” I remember saying it myself over the years – when I was a good deal younger than I am now.
What I meant to convey by the phrase then is fuzzy to me now. Something, I suspect, about rejecting cosmetic surgery and accepting “gracefully” whatever time might throw my way in terms of changes in my appearance. Most certainly I appropriated the line from elsewhere without much thought to what getting older is like while imagining myself, in the remote future, in the third person - she, not I, would grow old gracefully.
Now that I have reached the age when such a state of being is an attractive idea, I’ve been wondering what it really means to do so.
Googling “aging gracefully” returns hundreds of thousands of sites which, after an hour or two of perusal, I found can be broken down into four categories:
- Pets. Weirdly, there is a lot written about helping pets age gracefully. Not quite what I was looking for.
- Christian sermons with a lot of Bible quotations.
- Health advice.
- Botox and cosmetic surgery proponents arguing against aging gracefully – that is, if appearance is all you think the phrase means; and I do not.
So the web, a rich source of answers for many other questions, failed me. And my growing library of books, reports and studies on aging doesn’t much address this question. Damn! No “experts” to quote.
The one personal ideal who comes to mind, Katharine Hepburn - who never gave a hoot about what other people thought of her - isn't a bad place to start this quest.
These, then, are some thoughts on aging gracefully. You may have some others.
- The pursuit of the appearance of youth is vanity and it is demeaning. There is grace in wearing our years honestly.
- Tolerate the inevitable decline in strength with a good nature. When needed, there is dignity, not shame, in asking for help.
- Cultivate your friends, old ones and new ones, young and old, and listen – really listen – when they speak. It will keep you from becoming hidebound in your outlook, and everything is interesting if you pay attention.
- Accept eventual death with forbearance and composure. The wheel goes ‘round everlastingly and we must make room for the next generations.
- And live. Really live. Every day.
Look to this Day. For it is Life,
The very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the Varieties
And Realities of your Existence:
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty.
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And Tomorrow is only a Vision,
But Today well lived
Makes every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day.
- [from the Sanscrit]